For the Time Being —
Notes from the Developmental Minister
Last October, you may recall, a group of us attended Mosaic Makers 2017, a denominational conference in San Diego. This church’s delegation included then-President Sally Atkinson, Committee on Ministry Chair Rod Sauter, Chuck Campbell, and I. It turned out to be a powerful and illuminating experience for all of us.
The conference gave us the chance to see an intentionally multicultural congregation in action, the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego. We heard from First Church leaders about the decision to become multicultural. We visited the South Bay campus in Chula Vista, a predominantly Spanish-speaking town near the US-Mexico border. And we were present for the ordination of The Rev. Tania Marquez, a bilingual Meadville-Lombard graduate who will be the main minister at South Bay.
How does white supremacy culture hurt white people?
In addition to exploring Unitarian Universalist diversity initiatives, we examined certain habits of mind that can get in the way, which fall in the category “white supremacy culture.” This is something I’ve been concerned about for many years, but learning is a lifelong process. For me, a standout experience from the conference was the opportunity to hear from Chris Crass, a white antiracist organizer who’s also a Unitarian Universalist.
Chris spoke on Sunday to the entire conference, and on Monday to white ministers and other religious professionals. He left us with a provocative question: How does white supremacy culture hurt white people? We’re accustomed to hearing how it hurts people of color, but are there ways in which it harms all of us?
White supremacy culture is a social construct invented to distract poor and working-class white people from addressing their own oppression.
Many answers are possible. Some come from history and sociology, for example in the argument that “race” is largely a social construct, not a hard and fast reality. From that, we can infer that white supremacy is also a social construct – not part of nature, but invented to distract poor and working-class white people from addressing their own oppression. Beyond the academic answers, there are answers from our lives. These are answers we can live into, accessing memories, noticing reactions, and collecting insights as we go along.
With the ministers, Chris Crass invited us to get deeply personal. He divided us into small groups with the question, “What have been the negative effects of white supremacy in your own life?” The sharing that followed was deep, emotional, and of necessity confidential. But in the large group conversation, some reflections emerged with potentially wider application: For example, if we identify as white, do we tend to emphasize perfectionism at the expense of relationship? Do we lift up self-reliance – having it all together – over holding a space for vulnerability and grief? Are we so focused on “getting things done,” that we forget to stop, to listen, to pray?
Reflecting on questions like this can help us build a culture of nurturance and resilience. It can strengthen our sense that we are all in this together, or in Dr. King’s words, “tied together in the single garment of destiny.” And it can help us work with people, not in a paternalistic way, but with the understanding that our liberation is bound up with the liberation of people everywhere.
Love and blessings,
The Reverend Suzanne Redfern-Campbell